No burnout culture, no alien dreadnoughts: How Rivian is charting a different path than Tesla

  • Rivian does not appear to have Tesla's "burnout culture," according to T. Rowe Price portfolio manager Joe Fath.
  • And unlike Tesla, Rivian won't attempt to reinvent automotive manufacturing, he said.
  • "My sense is they've really done a nice job of melding an old-line industrial culture together with a new-line tech culture," Fath said of Rivian.
  • Are you a current or former Rivian employee? Do you have an opinion about what it's like to work there? Contact this reporter at [email protected], on Signal at 646-768-4712, or via his encrypted email address [email protected]
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Rivian is one of many electric-vehicle startups that hope to replicate Tesla's success and, so far, there are signs it may be at the front of the pack: At $6 billion, Rivian has raised more money than any other private EV manufacturer, and its powertrain technology has received endorsements in the form of partnerships with Amazon and Ford.

If Rivian does become the next Tesla, it will do so with a different culture and strategy, said Joe Fath, a portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price, which is an investor in both companies. Fath told Business Insider that, based on the time he's spent around the companies and his conversations with their executive teams, each seems to have a different management style. 

Tesla appears to have what Fath called a "burnout culture" that has led to a high rate of turnover, though he noted the company's approach has proven to be very successful, and that even former employees who said they would never return to Tesla have characterized their experience there as invaluable.

"It's a very aggressive, hard-charging culture there," Fath said. "The line you will hear from a lot of employees is, 'I wouldn't give up my time at Tesla for anything, but I would never go back.'"

Rivian appears to be a less demanding workplace, Fath said, though that doesn't mean its employees aren't diligent and focused. "These guys work hard, and they're very mission-driven, but it's a very respectful culture," Fath said.

The upstart automaker has also adopted a manufacturing strategy that could help it avoid the production issues that plagued the rollout of Tesla's Model 3 sedan in 2017 and 2018. Though automakers rely on robots during some stages of production, like painting and welding, they lean more on humans to put a car's parts together. Before beginning Model 3 production, Tesla designed a heavily-automated assembly line for the vehicle, which CEO Elon Musk said would resemble an "alien dreadnought." Issues with some machines led to significant delays that almost bankrupted the company. Tesla eventually reverted to a more human-centered assembly system and in January began producing a new vehicle, the Model Y SUV, ahead of schedule for the first time in the company's history.

Rivian will not try to reinvent automotive manufacturing, Fath said. "My sense is they've really done a nice job of melding an old-line industrial culture together with a new-line tech culture," he said. "You need to put those two together to optimize the chances for success in a business like this."

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Of course, for all the promise Fath sees in Rivian, the company still needs to prove that it can handle the early stages of production, a process that has vexed many EV startups. But, Fath said, Rivian looks like it's in a good position to clear that hurdle.

"We'll have to see if they're successful, but I think they built the right culture to be able to deal with those stresses," he said.

Are you a current or former Rivian employee? Do you have an opinion about what it's like to work there? Contact this reporter at [email protected], on Signal at 646-768-4712, or via his encrypted email address [email protected]

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